The Pentagon contracted with foreign companies that installed uncertified and possibly unsafe doors at the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, Afghanistan, raising concerns that the U.S. government was defrauded by firms working on the multi-million dollar construction project.
The revelation came in a letter sent by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, to Defense Department leaders last week and made public on Tuesday. It cited serious safety concerns about the installation of uncertified fire doors at the Afghan interior ministry and possibly other construction projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan.
The interior ministry, which is responsible for law enforcement in Afghanistan, has been targeted in attacks by Taliban insurgents. The construction project was part of a larger effort by the U.S. government to strengthen the Afghan security forces amid persistent conflict with the Taliban.
According to the special inspector general, which is conducting an ongoing investigation into the interior ministry compound in Kabul, the Pentagon contracted with Afghan, Turkish, and Dubai-based companies to work on the construction project. Auditors found during on-site visits that hundreds of fire doors installed at 25 different buildings in the compound were not certified using federal standards, in violation of the contracts.
The special inspector general also found evidence that workers put labels on the doors that falsely indicated they were up to standard.
Fire doors help limit smoke and flames in areas used to exit buildings in the event of a fire. Substandard doors would put individuals at greater risk of harm if a blaze broke out.
"The use of noncertified fire doors, despite contract requirements calling for certified fire doors for specific rooms, corridors, and stairwells, raising concerns about the safety of the buildings, whether the government overpaid for inferior products, and whether the contractors defrauded the government when they installed the doors that did not meet contract requirements," stated the Oct. 5 letter, which was sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other military leaders.
"Our concerns extend to all completed and ongoing USACE construction projects in Afghanistan that required the installation of certified fire doors," wrote John Sopko, the special inspector general.
The special inspector general’s office told the Washington Free Beacon that the total cost of the Kabul construction project was initially estimated at $90 million, but that it could not single out the cost for the fire doors specifically. The project was funded by the U.S.-led Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
The Kabul construction project was done in three phases, each of which was completed by a different primary contractor: Abdulhai Gardezi Construction, an Afghan company, handled the first phase; Yuksel Insaat, a Turkish company, the second; and Macro Vantage Levant, a Dubai-based company, the third.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which administered the contracts, approved the installation of the doors in the second and third phases despite the fact that the companies that manufactured them were not certified to make fire doors that met federal standards.
"We did not see any evidence that the contractors informed USACE that they were deviating from the contract’s requirement for certified doors. We also did not see any evidence that USACE reviewers made any effort to question the contractor’s submittal about this requirement," the special inspector general wrote. "The approval also raises concerns that the government may have overpaid for the doors installed given the noncertified doors presumably cost less than certified fire doors."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to a request for comment.
In total, 934 fire doors were installed by the companies during construction at the interior ministry. Auditors discovered that none of the 153 doors installed during the second phase of construction had the required manufacturer’s label proving certification.
Additionally, while some of the 780 doors installed during the third phase displayed labels from the Underwriters Laboratory, a certifying body, officials at the company said that the doors had never been certified and as a result the labels were "unauthorized."
Auditors also found 736 doors installed in the third phase with "field labeled" tags that contained "misleading information" and "appeared to have been installed to make the doors look more official," according to the letter.
"We are continuing to examine these issues as part of our ongoing inspection of the MOI compound. However, due to the seriousness of this matter, we are bringing these issues to your attention now so USACE can conduct a review and begin taking corrective action, where necessary, to ensure the safety of building occupants at the MOI compound and safeguard the expenditure of U.S. funds," the special inspector general wrote.
The letter recommended that the Pentagon move immediately to identify all uncertified fire doors installed at interior ministry buildings and any other Army Corps of Engineers construction projects in the country and replace them with certified products.
Additionally, the special inspector general wants the Pentagon to identify U.S. officials who approved the installation of the doors and take appropriate disciplinary action against them.